|Note: The names in this article have been changed in order to maintain the anonymity of the subject family.
In the English language media we read of US/British bombings. Of a horrifying death rate of children. Such images shape our view of Iraq—and of the Iraqi people. But what is it really like in Iraq? What is it like for the Iraqi citizen?
We'd met an Iraqi for the first time in Madrid—in the Arab neighborhood of Lavapies. She was a long time resident of Madrid and we saw little reason to ask her about life in her native country. But it got me thinking. In the US it isn't often that we encounter Iraqis.
On the streets of Amman, the capital of Jordan—one of Iraq's neigbors—we sat with a coin collector and sifted through his pile of coins. The Iraqi coins were exotic to us—especially given their odd shapes. One Iraqi dinar, half an Iraqi dinar. We wondered about the value of these coins. Evelyn pulled a newspaper from our bag and scanned the currency exchange table—Iraqi dinar weren't listed. We then checked our Middle East guide book which includes a chapter on Iraq. In the section that usually lists exchange rates, we read "there are 1000 fils to the Iraqi dinar." This is equivalent to saying that 100 cents equals one dollar. The book didn't even bother mentioning the exchange rate at the time of publication because the currency is so wildly unstable—and anyway who'd be going there?
Later we would learn the current exchange rate—US$1.00 = 2000 Iraqi dinar. The most valuable of the coins in our hands was thus worth 1/20th of a US penny.
We continued down the road in Amman's downtown area passing a couple of athletes in their national uniforms. They were in town for the Pan-Arab Games. We turned to read the backs of their sweat jackets to see which country they represented—Iraq. Somehow I hadn't thought of Iraqis competeing in international sporting events. In Cairo I'd peered through the windows of an Iraqi Airways booking office. It was closed, abandoned, neglected. On the desk behind the service counter only a telephone and some trash. In my mind, Iraq had been shut down.